The novelty alone makes “Beyond the Mask,” a rare faith-based film pitched as a swashbuckling action picture set during the American Revolution, worth a look.
It’s got piracy, revolution and ordinary men battling against the original “Too Big too Fail” megalopoly, the British East India Company.
There’s also a cameo by the most whimsically secular of the Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin.
An utterly conventional and old fashioned swashbuckler, “Mask: takes a mercenary agent hired by the East India Company, then set up to take a fall for its sins, to America where William Reynolds (Andrew Cheyney) takes on a new identity and a new profession. He’s a pastor in the colonies, and not that good in the pulpit. Even his congregants, especially the fetching Charlotte (Kara Killmer of “Chicago Fire”), raise an eyebrow at that. But she doesn’t suspect him of being “the notorious” Reynolds, wanted by the law and a force greater than the law — the East India Company.
“Only God can give us new lives,” she opines.
But the swashbuckling vicar’s secret is safe only until the arch-villain Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies) can find him. And with the East India Company cooking up a teapot full of trouble for the colonies, that won’t be long.
Reynolds feels to Philly, where publisher Ben Franklin finds work for him. Reynolds is soon in the thick of it, as is the lady the vicar once loved.
The divisive politics of 1776 play out on the streets, and in the pubs, because where you chose to drink betrayed where you stood on independence. Picking the King & Crown for a pint isn’t a wise choice for Reynolds.
“It seems I spoke out for liberty,” he tells Franklin (Alan Madlane, who lacks the presence to play the man), “and was thrown out…on my convictions!”
Progressive casting means there are color-blind roles for actors of color.
It’s a decent plot that doesn’t have the light writerly or directorial touch or proper budget to come off. When you’re relying on Franklin’s new toy, “electricity,” to set off bombs, you’d better have convincing effects and there simply wasn’t money for much other than the occasional digital rendering of an 18th century sailing ship.
Cheney, a veteran of Christian films, has nice presence, and Rhys-Davies (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) makes a formidable villain.
But on the whole, “Beyond the Mask” lacks the wit or excitement to truly come off, though it is intriguing enough to make you hope this team gets to make more films, perhaps spending more money on screenwriting as they do.
MPAA Rating: PG for action, violence and some thematic elements
Cast: Andrew Cheney, Kara Killmer, John Rhys Davies
Credits: Directed by Chad Burns , script by Paul McCusker. Chad Burns . A Burns Family Studio release.
Running time: 1:43